This Liverpool side is rolling back the years

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By @shantanu1singh

20 minutes into the game, Liverpool fans around the world stood dazed. They had witnessed something which probably their grandfathers were accustomed to. A throwback to the 80s, when their team outclassed and annihilated everyone at Anfield. It was a ruthless dissection of arguably the strongest defensive unit in the premiership. The passing was spectacularly incisive, the tackles magnificently well-timed and the pressing, well, the best I have seen in my life. Arsenal weren’t allowed a second on the ball. Two or three Liverpool players hunted down each opposition player with the ball as if they were wolves chasing the last morsel of meat left. If Wilshere went past Coutinho, Henderson was there to put in a second challenge and win the ball. If Toure made a mistake, the rampaging Gerrard would be right behind him making a thumping challenge. It was a performance which typified Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy. Pass, and Press, and don’t give the opposition a moment’s rest.

The start to the game was electric. Gerrard curling in a beautiful ball and Skrtel getting on the end of it. A few minutes later, another corner from Gerrard and Skrtel with a wonderful looping header into the goal. The amount of goals Liverpool have scored from set-pieces this season would amaze any Liverpool fan who have supported the club over the years. We used to be poor, rather abysmal at scoring from set-pieces. Manchester United and even Chelsea have been lauded over the years for their impressive tendency to grab a goal from a set-piece when goals from open-play were not coming by. This Liverpool side seems to have put it’s set-piece demons behind and are now converting it into a valuable asset. If Liverpool intend to be genuine title-challengers in the future, they’ll need to apply this asset to games where not much is going their way.

Moving on from the first two goals, we saw what Rodgers’ Liverpool side has been implementing this entire season. Ozil (yes, he was on the pitch) caught in possession by the omnipresent Henderson who slid it to Suarez and the genius guided it to Sterling who happily tapped home. It was a goal of sheer brilliance. Press, Pass, Pass, Goal. It doesn’t get more direct than that. Another huge change in this Liverpool side is to see so many players trying to score. Sturridge was right behind Sterling trying to get a goal too. It is this hunger which makes good teams great. Which converts a potent attack into an irrepressible one. Roll back 2-3 seasons and you’ll see Torres alone in the box trying to get onto the end of a cross or a flick. This Liverpool side doesn’t let one player decide their fortune. Suarez, Sterling, Sturridge might just form the most devastating partnership over the remainder of the season. The pace, directness and hunger for goals is hardly seen elsewhere.

This brings up the player oft ignored in Liverpool’s eulogies written over the past few months. Coutinho was a revelation when he joined Liverpool but somehow faded away over the start of this season. The most analytical and pessimistic fans could only argue that his star was beginning to drown out already and he couldn’t handle the physicality of the premier league. Well, look at his performances over the last few games and you’ll have him as the first player on the team-sheet. He adds an enormous amount to the pressing deployed by Liverpool against the opposition. On winning the ball back, the touch, the turn and the vision of this little master is a work of art. There was a moment in the game when he waltzed away from three Arsenal players and played a delightful through-ball to Henderson who couldn’t finish it off. Lest we forget, the way he won the ball back in our own half and slid the perfect slide rule pass to Sturridge who made it four. His importance in this Liverpool side continues to rise and it’s hard to imagine the front three of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling flourishing without Coutinho being the wizard behind them.

The first half alone was probably the best attacking football the premiership has seen this season. Had Sturridge finished off Suarez’s deft touch in the first half, had that audacious Suarez volley gone in, it might have been 6-0 at half-time. Sterling missed two other chances in the second half to complete his hat-trick. The greed for more goals is what has heralded truly great teams. The Barcelona of recent past, the invincible Arsenal team and even the current Manchester City team who are considered favorites for the title, are all goal-hungry teams.

Another point to throw light on was Steven Gerrard’s regista role. Rodgers and Gerrard were both harshly criticized for Gerrard’s inefficiency in the first half against Aston Villa. The Villa front two and their midfield ran over Gerrard and it was proving too much for the captain to cope with it. However, against Everton and Arsenal again, Gerrard was superb in his role of breaking up play, winning the ball back close to the box and instigating quick counter-attacks. If Gerrard continues to play like this, the loss of Lucas would soon be forgotten. But for that lunge on Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gerrard’s performance was close to perfect.

If only one thing this game lacked was a Suarez goal. Every Liverpool supporter wanted him to get a goal and help himself in his pursuit of breaking the Premier League record of number of goals in one season. The selflessness of Suarez came to the fore again today. He set up Sterling for his first and also played Sturridge through for a great chance in the first half. His happiness at seeing Sterling score shows that he is a player who wants his team to do well and loves to see his team-mates score.

Considering the magnificent display by this Liverpool side, it is hard to contain myself from incessant flattery. All we wish for is this home form to have a similar impact on the away performances. Fourth-position is for us to lose and considering how Manchester City are yet to come to Anfield, we might well be in shot for finishing higher-up in the table. Who knows, we might just go for that title!